Cinematographer Russ Alsobrook has had the chance to work in comedy and drama, both on the big and small screen, with credits that range from high-profile studio assignments to smaller, indie-minded hidden gems, always bringing a casual sense of style to all that he shoots. He’s cemented a close partnership with filmmaker Mike Binder, collaborating with him on the Hollywood satire Man About Town, the fantastic and deeply underrated post 9/11 drama Reign Over Me, and last year’s provocative Kevin Costner drama Black or White, as well as the HBO series The Mind of the Married Man. Knowing how to cover comedy is super important, as you need to understand timing on the part of the actors, as well as where to place the camera in order to get maximum laughs out of any given comedic moment. It’s no surprise that he’s been drafted by the Judd Apatow factory for two tours of duty (Superbad and Forgetting Sarah Marshall), with other credits including last summer’s Melissa McCarthy hit Tammy and the David Wain crowd pleaser Role Models. But Alsobrook is also that sort of talent who can jump from a funny sequence to one that’s totally dramatic, with total ease, making his work all the more textured and varied. He’s a unique talent in the sense that he clearly responds to comedic material and knows exactly how to frame a joke, but can also gravitate towards dramatic material with just as strong of a sense of place and unobtrusive style.
Reign Over Me is one of those delicate films with a tone that moves back and forth between funny and sad, and Alsobrook knew exactly how to get into the headspace of Adam Sadler’s emotionally damaged lead character. Just watch as Sandler floats through the nocturnal NYC streets on his scooter during the film’s opening segments, oblivious to all that’s around him, almost begging to be hit by a car. In these moments, Alsobrook’s grainy and dreamy digital cinematography captures the spiritual anxiety of a man who is at a serious crossroads in his life. The film is wildly undervalued, and Alsobrook’s elegant sense of style was a big part of the film’s success. One of his largest accomplishments as a craftsman has to be his continued work on the smash FOX comedy series The New Girl, which stars Zooey Deschanel alongside a terrific cast including Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, Hannah Simone, Lamore Morris, and Damon Wayans Jr. There’s a sense of family on the show, and over the course of 98 episodes as cinematographer (and a bunch as director), Alsobrook has given the series a warm and fluid visual style that’s in perfect tandem with the playful material. And earlier this year, Alsobrook’s versatile work was seen on the big screen in Mike Binder’s thoughtful race relations drama Black or White, which starred a fantastic Kevin Costner as a hard-drinking grandfather trying to keep custody of his granddaughter. Alsobrook had a chance to shoot a multifamily portrait of life in Los Angeles, and be brought to the film a classy polish while never getting to ostentatious about his aesthetic, always the mark of an astute talent.